Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Happy 100th birthday,
Beverly Cleary!

Author Beverly Cleary, who was born Beverly Atlee Bunn on April 12, 1916, in McMinnville, Oregon, turns 100 years old today. Whoa.

Pictured above is the cover of the Scholastic edition of Henry Huggins that served as my introduction to Cleary's fictional worlds. When I was 8 or 9 years old, living in Clayton, New Jersey, one of the kids on the block had a small-scale yard sale. I bought Henry Huggins out of a box for a nickel or a dime. (I think I also bought a piece of Gator Gum; those yard sales weren't exactly regulated.)

Henry Huggins was Cleary's first book, published in 1950, and coincidentally served as my first meeting with Henry, his dog Ribsy and the other residents of Klickitat Street (which, in my mind, looked just like Maple Street in Clayton). The first book of Henry's and Ribsy's adventures includes an ice cream cone, a short-lived bus ride, guppies, night crawlers, a football and lots of hijinx.

I read a lot of Beverly Cleary books in the early 1980s, mostly from the Konkle Memorial Library in Montoursville, Pennsylvania, after we moved back there. I would guess that my most-read authors during those formative years were Cleary, Ruth Manning-Sanders (of course) and Robert Arthur Jr., who penned most of the early books in The Three Investigators series.

While I liked the adventures of Henry, Beezus and Ribsy, most of which were written during the 1950s, I also enjoyed the new books about Ramona Quimby (Beezus's little sister) that Cleary published in the 1970s and early 1980s. These included Ramona the Brave, Ramona and Her Father, Ramona and Her Mother and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.

Here's a little moment from 1977's Ramona and Her Father that has stuck with me over many decades:
Mr. Quimby set his cup down. "I have a great idea! Let's draw the longest picture in the world." He opened a drawer and pulled out a roll of shelf paper. When he tried to unroll it on the kitchen floor, the paper rolled itself up again. Ramona quickly solved that problem by Scotch-taping the end of the roll to the floor. Together she and her father unrolled the paper across the kitchen and knelt with a box of crayons between them.

"What shall we draw?" she asked.

"How about the state of Oregon?" he suggested. "That's big enough."

Ramona's imagination was excited. "I'll begin with the Interstate Bridge," she said.

"And I'll tackle Mount Hood," said her father.

Together they went to work, Ramona on the end of the shelf paper and her father halfway across the kitchen. With crayons Ramona drew a long black bridge with a girl standing astride a line in the center. She drew blue water under the bridge, even though the Columbia River always looked grey. She added grey clouds, grey dots for raindrops, and all the while she was drawing she was trying to find courage to tell her father something.

Ramona glanced at her father's picture, and sure enough he had drawn Mount Hood peaked with a hump on the south side exactly the way it looked in real life on the days when the clouds lifted.

"I think you draw better than anybody in the whole world," said Ramona.

Mr. Quimby smiled. "Not quite," he said.
That endless roll of shelf paper delights me still. A sprawling blank canvas for the imagination. Never-ending possibilities.

Cleary has spent a writer's lifetime pulling stories from her own imagination and setting them down on that roll of shelf paper, shared there for each new generation to discover and enjoy and be inspired by.

Great links: Beverly Cleary

1 comment:

  1. Great tribute to a great author. My first experience with Beverly Cleary was with "Runaway Ralph" in 4th grade. I checked it out from the library simply because the cover had a mouse riding a motorcycle. How could you go wrong? I fell into Ralph's world and couldn't put it down. Then I discovered I was actually reading a sequel to "The Mouse and the Motorcycle". Ramona books followed and despite it being about a girl, I could relate. I read every Ramona book to my daughter when she was little. Happy 100th birthday, Beverly. May your books live on another 100 and more.